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Control of the Portuguese artisanal octopus fishery

João M.F. Pereira

Instituto de Investigação das Pescas e do Mar (IPIMAR), Av. Brasília, s/n, 1449-006 Lisboa, Portugal.

Abstract: Historically, the Portuguese octopus fishery, targeting Octopus vulgaris, has been one of the most important in the country, yielding an average annual catch of 8,600 t during the decade 1988-97 and reaching a peak of 11,500 t valued at 43*106 US Dollars in 1996. Octopus is currently ranked third in landing statistics and is the highest revenue earner within the domestic fisheries sector. The three most important fisheries components in Portugal are: purse-seiners, targeting pelagic species; non-species selective bottom trawlers; and a nominative artisanal fishery, which is a multi-gear, multi-species fishery, employing a large fraction of the traditional fishing community. The latter has its major expression in the octopus fishery, accounting for an average of 79% of octopus landings in the last decade. Since 1996, the Fisheries and Aquaculture Directorate-General (DGPA) and the Fisheries and Sea Research Institute (IPIMAR), were confronted with requests by artisanal fishery representatives, to produce measures assuring the sustainable exploitation of the local stocks of octopus, in order to maintain the livelihood of the traditional fishing communities. From data gathered during regular research cruise programmes, national fish-auction sampling programmes (via IPIMAR), official landing statistics (via DGPA), fishing log-books and satellite vessel monitoring systems (VMS), the first legal step to protect the stocks of Octopus vulgaris was taken and a minimum weight limit of 750g was imposed. The available datasets, proved to be inadequate for the management of the octopus fishery, as they were designed to meet the requirements of the current models used in the assessment of finfish and crustacea. The careful planning and management of the highly visible trawling and purse-seining activities, overlooked the octopus fishery which is responsible for a large fraction of both landings and the economic success of dependant fishing communities. Particular features in the operation of this fishery and the nature of the artisanal assemblages of small fishing ventures, making up the largest proportion of the sector, meant that a new approach to State conducted, marine research in Portugal, was required. This needed to be based largely on the development of partnerships between fisheries scientists and individual fishers and on co-operation with social sciences researchers. An integrated programme of research into the biology and ecology of the species in nearshore waters (where the fishery has its greater impact), is also a priority requirement to overcome the present research deficit.


While global and Portuguese finfish landings reached a peak and subsequently tended to decline, those of cephalopods have increased during the last two decades (FAO 1997). Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) is currently ranked third in landings and generates the highest revenue of all species taken in Portuguese fisheries (Anon. 1997a, Pereira et al. 1997). Octopus is mainly caught by artisanal gear types, particularly pots and traps. The current fisheries monitoring systems (Satellite tracking, logbooks and dock-side monitoring) and research practices (regular research cruises and sampling from official auction sites) are maladjusted to the requirements of this fishery, since they were primarily designed to deal with trawl and purse-seine fisheries. In this paper, the inappropriateness of the current fisheries monitoring systems is discussed and possible solutions presented.


Portugal is an historic fishing nation, with a large coastline to surface area ratio (Fig. 1) and a multitude of fishing ports (Fig. 2). Fishing has always been an economically important activity of many coastal communities and a rich tradition of locally developed techniques exists for the gear types, used in these, artisanal fisheries.

Figure 1. Location of Portugal and the southern province of Algarve in Europe. Figure 2. Location of the main fishing ports on the Portuguese coast, where the majority of non-artisanal fishery vessel landings take place. An additional 74 small ports with their own official auction sites, along the whole coast, record most artisanal fishery landings. Ports north of Nazaré are grouped as the "Northern West coast", those from Nazaré to Sines as the "Central and Southern West coast" and those from Lagos to V.R.S. António are known as the "Algarve" or the "South Coast".

Figure 3. Pots and traps used in the capture of octopus. Traps schematic drawing and photo reproduced respectively from Leite et al. (1988) and from Costa et al. (1984).

Figure 4. Landings of finfish from Portuguese waters. Figure 5. Landings of octopus from Portuguese waters.


Figure 6. Temporal evolution of the pattern of landings of Octopus vulgaris along the Portuguese coast.


Figure 7. Schematic representation of the main interrelationships between different parts of the research, monitoring, management and legislation formula in Portugal.


Figure 8. Percentage of the registered fisherman employed in the Portuguese artisanal fisheries sector.

Figure 9. Approximate annual revenue from the octopus fishery in present day value.

Figure 10. Comparison between Portuguese total landings (A) and octopus landings (B) by fishery type.

Figure 11 - Comparison between research trawl effort by depth stratum and availability of octopus in these strata.

Figure 12 - Relationship between weight and maturity for male and female Octopus vulgaris from both commercial and research samples.




ANON. 1997a. Recursos da Pesca - Série Estatística. GEPP. Lisboa.

ANON. 1997b. Estatísticas da Pesca. INE. Lisboa.

COSTA, F.C., FRANCA, M.L.P. & CALADO, C. 1984. Pesca artesanal na zona centro da costa ocidental portuguesa. Documentação fotográfica. Instituto Nacional de Investigação das Pescas, Publicações Avulsas 4: 1-140.

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LEITE, A.M., GIL, D.B., METELO, M.B. & FERRAZ, D.S. 1988. Definição e classificação dos tipos de navios de pesca. Instituto Nacional de Investigação das Pescas, Publicações Avulsas, 13: 1-71.

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